Christmas Tamales Tradition: Explained


Cootie Browns Chicken Tamale
Cootie Brown’s Chicken Tamales

It’s tamale time. Goldbelly is one hot tamale, packing up warm bundles of corn masa stuffed with savory or sweet fillings and spreading Christmas cheer this holiday season. This Mexican comfort food has a long history and is an essential part of every major holiday, particularly Christmas. It’s also the perfect portable snack for holiday travelers.



Picos Mexican Restaurant-Sweet Tamales
 Picos Mexican Restaurant’s Sweet Tamales

What is a Tamale?

Made of masa, a dough made of maize (corn), Mexican tamales are stuffed with seasoned meat, pork, cheese, beans, veggies, or sweet fillings like coconut, raisins, and pineapple and steamed in a corn husk or banana leaf, making for the ultimate hand-held snack or meal. Tamales can be made to accommodate special diets like gluten-free, vegan, and vegetarian.

El Charro Cafe Beef Tamale
 El Charro Cafe’s Red Chile Beef Tamales

How Did Tamales Become a Christmas tradition?

Tamales have been eaten for centuries — the Mayans, Aztecs, Incas, Toltecs, and Olmecs ate them — and corn had a special place in Mesoamerica. These bundles of corn were offered as sacrifices to the gods as many believed corn was used by the gods to make humans.

The time-honored tradition of making — and eating — Christmas tamales begins before Christmas and extends through the 12th day of Christmas. The fun begins on December 12, which is the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, a Mexican holiday that commemorates when the Virgin Mary appeared before a peasant, Juan Diego, in the 16th century; and ends on January 6, which is Epiphany, the last day of Christmas and the day the three kings visited Jesus after his birth. 

During this nearly month-long period, talamadas (tamale making parties) are held, and families and friends come together to make Christmas tamales with a variety of fillings like chicken and Hatch chiles, black beans and cheese, and even newer creations like El Charro Cafe‘s Vegan Hazelnut Dessert Tamales made with hazelnuts, hazelnut spread, and a dash of cinnamon. Tamale making isn’t just reserved for Christmas. Talamadas are also held before important celebrations like wedding anniversaries and baptisms.

Texas Tamale Company Tamales
 Texas Tamale Company’s Tamales Variety Pack

How to Eat a Tamale

To eat a tamale, simply unwrap the corn husk wrapper like a Christmas present and dig in! Tamales make an excellent Christmas dinner or a tasty snack to eat during your holiday travels. Some food explorers like to top their tamales with tomatillo sauce or red chile sauce.

Today The Taste of Tamales Stretches Beyond Central America

At the tail end of the Mississippi in Natchez, Mississippi, Jimmy and Britton Gammill of Fat Mama’s Tamales make homemade tamales with seasoned ground beef and pork roast and ship them nationwide on Goldbelly. In Houston, Texas Tamale Company‘s Shirley Bailey is a wrap star, hand making pork, Mexican beef, gourmet black bean, and spicy chicken tamales and shipping them straight to your door ready to steam for your next party. Find all of Goldbelly’s tamales, shipping nationwide, here!